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Full text of "Rutland Historical Society Quarterly Vol.31, No.3, 2001"

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Volume 31 No. 3 


In the 1887-88 Directory of Rutland Oliver G. Baker and his son 
George H. Baker were listed as farmers residing on Park Street. 
Sidney A, Baker, the elder son, resided on Park Street with his parents 
but he was an engineer on the Bennington and Rutland Railroad. 
Fortunately he was within walking distance of the Rutland railroad 

On 8 November 1890 Esther Gorton Baker, Oliver's mother, died. 
On 30 December 1890 Oliver died of "blood poisoning". On 17 Septem- 
ber 1892 Willard, Oliver's father, also died. Meanwhile on 20 April 
1892 George H. Baker married Sarah H. Hinchey, daughter of James 
T. and Honora Q. Hinchey who lived at 12 Park Street. A change of 
generations had occurred in a very short time frame. 





George H. Baker 

Sarah H. Hinchey and "Gypsy" 

George and Sarah resided at 73 Park Street and subsequently had 
three children: Immaculata (called "Ima") Baker, born 19 June 1893, 
Eugenie Baker Ell wood, born 9 January 1896, and George E. Baker, 
born 1 January 1898. Sidney never married and continued to live at the 
family home and to work as an engineer on the railroad. George now 
had his own family about which to be concerned. Only Sidney and 
George were there to help their widowed mother, Eugenie. 



(I to r) Eugenie Q. Baker, George E. Baker and "Ima" Baker. 




(I to r) June (Baker) Gorton with her mother Eugenie E. Baker 
stand in front of the family home at 117 Park Street. 

Near the beginning of the 20 th Century, Sidney A. Baker opened 
Baker's Seed House on the family farm at 117 Park Street where he 
was living with his widowed mother. Sidney financed the venture but 
his younger brother, George H. Baker, handled most of the physical 
operation. Sidney continued to be an engineer on the railroad as well as 
proprietor of Baker's Seed House that sold a full range of seeds, plants 
and bulbs. The business installed a telephone to assist in dealing with 
their customers. Catalogs were issued on the first of January each year 
to assist customers from a distance. In the city directories George H. 
Baker was listed as a farmer until in the 1909-10 directory he finally 
was listed as a florist. The 1913 directory advertisement for the firm 
noted that "we are sure we can please you as we have in our employ a 
man skilled in the making of Special pieces." Presumably that man was 
George H. Baker. Eugenie E. Baker, the widowed mother of Sidney and 
George, was also actively involved with the business until her death in 

In 1916 the business became Baker Brothers Seed House with 
Sidney A. Baker and George H. Baker as co-proprietors. Also in 1916, 
George H. Baker's son, George E. Baker who was now 18, became 
employed at the seed house. After the death of his mother, George H. 


Sidney A. Baker, proprietor of 
Baker's Seed House 




Baker's advertisement in the 
1903-04 Rutland Directory 

Baker and his family occupied the old family home at 117 Park Street. 
His brother Sidney still boarded there as he had for years. 

The buildings of Baker's Seed House at 117 Park Street prominently 
advertised seeds, plants and bulbs. A chimney in the background 
advertised cut flowers. 


William S. Ellwood 

Eugenie B. Ellwood 

On 18 April 1917 William S. Ellwood married Eugenie Baker, the 
21-year-old daughter of William H. and Sarah H. Baker. The newly- 
weds lived at 117 Park Street in the Baker family home while William 
S. Ellwood continued his employment with the railroad. 

On 14 October 1918 George E. Baker entered the Army and, after a 
short time in training at Clarkson College in Potsdam, New York, was 
discharged on 4 December 1918. During this time he was struck by in- 
fluenza that led to his early death at age 39. 

The Baker Family business grew as George H. Baker's family ma- 
tured. In 1919 George E. Baker returned to his employment with the 
business. Meanwhile Sarah had opened a flower store in the Berwick 
Hotel and daughter Ima became the principal clerk there. As George H. 

George E. Baker 

Ima Baker 

The first Baker Flower Shop was in the Berwick Hotel at the northwest 
corner of Center and Wales Streets. The U.S. flag is above the entrance. 

Baker and his family became more involved, his brother Sidney began 
to ease out of the business although he continued to live at 117 Park 
Street. By 1922 George H. Baker was the sole proprietor of the business 
and William S. Ellwood, his son-in-law, had left the railroad to work in 
the Baker greenhouses. 

On 20 January 1923, George H. Baker died after a short illness. He 
had been a member of the Board of School Commissioners for twenty 
years (1898-1914 and 1919-1923). He had served as president of the 

George H. Baker died suddenly 
in 1923. 

Sarah H. Baker took over the 
operation of the business. 

board in 1905. In 1917 he was elected a member of the Board of Alder- 
men. After his death, his widow took over the business, William 

S. Ellwood became manager of the greenhouses. Eugenie handled 
the financial affairs of the business as well as helping with the day-to- 
day activities during the busy seasons. Ima continued to operate the 
flower store in Rutland. 

In 1924 the Ellwoods built a house at 121 Park Street, William and 
Eugenie had three children, Eileen, born on 31 August 1921, George B. 
born 8 February 1924 and Priscilla Ellwood Meinking born 10 May 1926. 
These children were never actively involved in the business as adults. 
While young, Eileen and Priscilla helped during the busy seasons with 
such things as packaging seeds and making corsage bows. Priscilla re- 
called singing in the choir at St. Peter's Church at midnight Mass and 
being the only lady there without a corsage. Again there is evidence that 
not only does the shoemaker's daughter go barefoot but the florist's 
daughter goes without flowers. As a teenager George spent quite a bit of 
time helping with the business. As soon as he was old enough to get his 
driver's license he helped with deliveries, especially at Christmas and 
Easter. During the cold months a portable heater was kept in the deliv- 
ery truck to protect the flowers. George recalled going to the greenhouse 
to fire the boiler one morning when he discovered that the night watch- 
man had failed to fill it with water. He turned on the water and ran for 
the exit fearing an explosion. The next day an automatic filling mecha- 
nism was installed. Bill Ellwood had an alarm in his bedroom that would 
activate during the winter months if the temperature in the greenhouse 
dropped below a safe reading. Many a time he had to rise in the middle 
of the night to make sure that the flowers were safe. 

The florist business was not a particularly lucrative business 
during the years of the Depression. It is understandable that folks 
could not spend large amounts of their available funds for decorative 
flowers when they were having difficulty supplying the basic essentials 
of life for their families. However, the seed and bedding plants part of 
the business did not suffer. Everyone had a Victory Garden during 
World War II. 

There were certainly rewards in providing beauty for the special 
occasions of life, weddings, proms, holidays and even helping to cheer 
families during the loss of a loved one. All in all, it had to be a very 
satisfying occupation. 

Annual catalogs were published early each year. "Greetings to Our 
Patrons and Friends" in the 1910 Baker's Catalog, Tested Seeds , Plants 
and Bulbs for Field, Farm and Garden gives an insight into the 
business philosophy of the firm. 



/=> /{ R K 

This survey of the Park Street lots of the Baker Estate was made 

on 29 August 1923. The firm's buildings are located as is lot # 1 

where William S. Ellwood would build a home in 1924. 











~i r?V 

J>z £/ie seedling greenhouse are: (foreground I to r) William "Bill" Ellwood and Sarah H. Baker. 
In the rear are Henry W. Bride, Jr., Merrill Bride and another unidentified man. 

*%■ ■!!■ Ill 

A i;iet^ in the plant greenhouse. 

"If you are among the thousands that have tried our seeds, we are 
sure you will see your way clear to send us your esteemed orders again. 
Our business has been built up, not by extravagant advertising, but by 
the quite sure method of furnishing such good seeds, that those who 
order once are sure to come again, and also to recommend us to their 
friends... To all who read this, whether old or prospective customers, 
we wish to say that we handle nothing that we do not believe to be the 
best obtainable, and we are sure that we have unsurpassed facilities 
for producing and purchasing the best seeds at a cost which enables us 
to quote comparatively low prices to our customers, We invite 
comparison with other reputable houses in this respect. 

"Our invariable rule is to strive to supply the highest quality of 
everything. From the very day our business was founded we have never 
allowed ourselves to be satisfied with present attainments. Our motto 
is 'Advance all along the line.' 

"Every fall and winter before we begin to fill orders, we make 
hundreds of vitality tests and are often compelled to reject hundreds of 
dollars worth of seeds because of faulty germination. In the summer, 
we also make multitudes of tests for purity and genuineness. In these 
ways, and by reason of our long and extensive experience with seeds, 
we are able to say honestly that all of our seeds, bulbs, roots, etc. are 

The 1910 catalog had extensive offerings of seeds for flowers and 
vegetables. There were ninety-four offerings for sweet peas alone, 
including the "new gigantic orchid-flowered sweet peas of the Countess 
Spencer type," an indication that this flower must have been a popular 
feature in the gardens of that time. In the "plant department, vines and 
climbers^ a surprising entry is "the famous Chinese Kudzu. Watch it 
grow! Like the magic bean vine of the fairy tale, this wondrous new 
vine, with ordinary treatment, will grow 70 feet in one season, turning 
everything it covers into leafy loveliness, and filling the air with the 
fragrance of its large clusters of wisteria-like blossoms... Adapted to 
porches, arbors, fences, rookeries, old trees, etc.! Perfectly hardy; lasts 
twenty-five years or more." 

The Kudzu was introduced into the United States in 1876 at the 
Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The large leaves and sweet 
smelling blooms of the Kudzu captured the imagination of American 
gardeners and it became a popular ornamental plant. Today this plant 
has become invasive through much of the south, covering almost 
anything that is in its path. Fortunately it was not hardy in this 

In the catalog, plants are individually shown with detailed illustra- 
tions and picturesquely described. The entry for Salvia Splendena 


"Fireball", flowering sage reads as follows; 

"Of the many sorts of salvia now cultivated this splendid novelty 
undoubtedly is the finest of all. It has larger flowers, and is also more 
full flowering than any other kind. The bushy plant, 20 inches high, is 
covered with long broad flower spikes with a great number of flowers of 
the most fiery scarlet. The plants branch freely and are profuse 
bloomers, the side shoots often producing four to six flowering spikes so 
evenly divided over the foliage and of such erect habit as to hide the 
foliage. It is the earliest of all flowering by the beginning of July and 
continuing without a break until frost. It is easily raised from seed and 
comes true, This made a grand display in our trial grounds. 

The catalog also contained farm and garden implements like the 
Lang's hand-weeder, the segment one-hand corn and bean planter, 
"iron age" combined single wheel hoe and drill seeder, along with 
"insect destroyers" such as Hammond's Slug Shot and Bug Death. 

The principal supplier of seeds for the Baker Greenhouses was the 
W. Atlee Burpee Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Bulbs were 
purchased from M. Van Waveren and Sons, N.V. of Hillegom, Holland. 
Among other world businesses dealing with the Baker firm were: Takii 
and Company Ltd. (Seedmen and Growers) of Kyoto, Japan and 
Clause's France Grown Seeds of Bretigny Sur Orge, France, 

In addition to the greenhouses there were outdoor gardens in which 
nasturtiums, gladiolus, sweet peas and many annuals were grown. 

Over the years the business expanded to include a wide range of 
floral services for weddings, funerals and other occasions. Easter was 
the busiest holiday when it was almost impossible to grow enough 
Easter lilies, calceolarias, carnations and other specialty plants to 
accommodate the demand. Corsages were a very popular item at 
Christmas and Easter as well as for school proms. 

The Baker florist business depended on the family and when 
George E, died in 1937 and his mother, Sarah, died in 1940, William 
Ellwood and his wife, Eugenie, and her sister, Ima, decided to sell the 
business in 1945 to G. E. Hunt, a long-time Church Street florist. Hunt 
operated the greenhouses for a while but then sold the lands to 
developers. Today all signs of the buildings are gone except for the 
family home at 117 Park Street where it all started. 

The Quarterly is published by the Rutland Historical Society, 96 Center Street, Rutland 
VT 05701-4023. Co-editors; Jim Davidson and Jacob Sherman. Copies are $2 each plus 
$1 per order. Membership in the Society includes a subscription to the Quarterly and the 
Newsletter. Coyyrighl © 2001 The Rutland Historical Society, Inc. JSSN 0748-24493. 


We Respectfully Submit the Following 
Suggestions for Your Consideration 

1. That a larger vegetable diet instead of much meat 
possibly might be of benefit to your health and that 
of your family. 

2. That a diet of vegetables is more economical than a 
meat diet* 

3. That the kitchen garden is the surest way of securing 
fresh vegetables, as the purchased vegetable is most 
frequently old and inferior. 

4. That if you do not plant your yard and care for it, the 
weeds will grow and become ugly and offensive. 

5. That you plant your vegetables in long rows instead 
of little beds and do without stooping, the work of six 
hoes with our wheeled garden cultivator. 

6. That the work of making a garden is as healthful a 
physical exercise as golf and as mentally stimulating 
as chess, the work for ladies and gentlemen. 

7. That no house can be complete in its setting without 
well-kept gardens, lawns and flowers. 

8. That no place can possibly be mean that has about 
it gardens, lawns and flowers grown from our vege- 
table, grass and flower seed. 

9. That we buy seed in bulk that is fresh and tested; not 
old and returned commission seed. 

10. That the superior seed we handle is here within 
your reach when you want it without the trouble, 
expense and delay of sending for it. 

11. That this seed is as reasonable in price and as good 
seed as can be secured. 

12. That in buying your seed or other supplies of us, you 
are keeping the dollars and pennies at home. 

13. That we certainly do appreciate your trade fully. 

14. That you buy at once before some varieties of seed, 
made scarce by the war and bad climatic conditions, 
be exhausted, 

15. That if you will submit us a list of your future seed 
wants upon which we may figure, we will save you 
much more than the express or postage plus the cost 
of sending and be here to see the result of the seed we 
sell you. 

Inside the back cover of a World War I era catalog is a listing 

of 15 points for consideration by the customer. They offer an 

interesting insight into early 20 th Century life in Rutland.